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Brands need to practice "safer" online advertising if they’re hoping to win Gen Z

by John Wheeler
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    Across the board, the surveys all say that Gen Z feels confident about its future - and believes it can “change the world” when it comes to creating a more equal society. As a recent study on Gen Zers from Barkley and Futurecast suggests, brands appealing to Gen Z's innate belief in equality – as well as those that find ways to benefit and contribute to the future success of its individual members – stand a greater chance of gaining recognition and traction with the larger demographic.

    But that isn't to say there aren't challenges to that bright, hypothetical future. Issues such as gun control, hate speech and political extremism are just some of the more recent hot-button issues that continue to dog Gen Zers. Brands that fail to address these issues can easily run afoul of Gen Z.

    One of the worst-possible ways is to advertise to them online at the wrong place and at the wrong time: in other words, practicing “unsafe” programmatic advertising.

    Programmatic advertising: All you need to know in three paragraphs

    Believe it or not, there was a not-so-long-ago time when the buying and selling of digital ads relied on face-to-face meetings, manual insertion orders and stack after stack of Excel spreadsheets. Programmatic advertising changed all that, automating digital ads so that they could be traded  between buyers (advertisers and agencies) and sellers (publishers) in a matter of seconds - and targeted towards their proper audiences in a matter of just a few more seconds. 

    Today, by partnering with programmatic ad-tech platforms (and mobile ad networks) including Google, Facebook, Rubicon Project, AppNexus, Index Exchange and OpenX, brand advertisers can fine-tune their targeting with a level of theoretically unmatched precision, presenting audiences with ads able to match their most-relevant interests - and all in near-real time.

    Unfortunately, targeting isn’t always as precise as advertisers and ad-tech platforms would like it to be. In fact, some ads land in spots where no brand advertiser in their right mind would want them to land. Brands need to stop practicing “unsafe programmatic” when advertising to Gen Z. Because honestly, you can run the risk of creeping them out.

    Programmatic without protection: Just don’t do it

    Over the last year, to their mounting dismay, companies have discovered their ads appearing on websites and channels that promote extremist views of everyday life. Mercedes-Benz and Honda were mortified to learn their advertisements had appeared regularly on jihadist webpages. A L’Oréal campaign featuring Helen Mirren was found to be running on a video channel that encouraged hatred against the LGBTQ community. Nike and other international companies have pulled ads from a well-known conspiracy site that dismisses well-documented national tragedies like 9/11 and school shootings as “fake news.”

    It’s easy to see why responsible brands would register grave concerns - both in terms of appealing to a general audience as well as to Gen-Zers. Gen Z is, without question, the most-diverse generation in the history of the world - and their fundamental belief in equality is incontrovertible. As such, it’s hard for a brand to make its pitch to a Gen-Z audience when its programmatic ads are running in places that don’t meet (to put it mildly) Gen-Z values and percepts.  

    However they want to address it, doing away with programmatic would be a non-starter for global brands and agencies. Programmatic advertisements carry huge advantages over traditional digital ad placements: They’re fast, they’re cost-effective and they’re easy to scale. And of course there's the aforementioned ability to accurately connect brands with audience members interested in their products and services in near-real time. None of that’s a bad thing. In fact, quite the opposite - and the marketplace knows it: According to eMarketer, programmatic advertising will account for roughly four out of every five digital ad-dollars by 2019.

    The internet reaches into some deep, dark places - there’s no helping that. But that doesn’t mean advertisers can’t take steps to dissociate and distance themselves from “unsafe” programmatic.

    What’s more, if advertisers fail to act, let’s face it: Gen Zers will. It’s not for nothing that Gen Zers are the most-likely demographic to soup up their laptops and mobile devices with ad-blocking technology. Not only do they perceive online ads as annoying, but they’re no strangers to the risks that come with online ads such as downloading malware or accidentally disclosing their personal data into the public sphere.

    Consider this solution: advertise via closed networks

    If you’d rather not have Gen Zers come across your brand messaging in places that will keep you up at night, there’s an easy first step to take: Partner with a technology platform that rigorously defends your brand’s privacy.

    A new set of technology platforms - including (though not limited to) UNiDAYS, a leading Student Affnity Network - recognize the need to advertise to students via sites and apps that are impervious to the wilds of programmatic advertising. Ads on these platforms aren’t “served,” nor is there any real-time bidding process that goes into showing a student what ads they’re looking at. Using private closed networks such as these, what you see online is - in this case thankfully - what you get online. Finding the right networks for Gen Z  can help you speak Gen Z’s language in a place where they’re actually looking for it.

    Brands can advertise on UNiDAYS knowing there isn’t the least chance their reputation will be impacted by any negative associations. And students can likewise browse through brand offers on UNiDAYS without any need for wariness, mistrust or ad-blocking.

    The key to relationships is building trust - and the same applies when it comes to building brand relationships with consumers. What better way to protect Gen-Z audiences from hate speech and malvertising than by appealing to them on platforms where those things are pretty much, for all intents and purposes, impossibilities?

      Download the report: Gen Z spending habits before and during COVID-19


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